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Yugoslavia: Russian Troops Pass Through Belgrade On Way To Kosovo


Moscow, 15 June 1999 (RFE/RL) - A Russian military convoy on its way to Kosovo to supply a contingent of Russian soldiers occupying the airport outside Kosovo's capital Pristina has passed through the Yugoslav capital Belgrade. Earlier today, the Russian Defense Ministry announced that a convoy of 11 vehicles left this morning from their base in Bosnia--with supplies of food, water and money--and is expected to arrive at Pristina's Slatina airport sometime tonight. NATO spokesman Jamie Shea indicated that NATO will allow the convoy to pass through its lines. Thousands of Serbian civilians are fleeing the province on the heels of Serbian forces and police who are due to withdraw by the end of today from southern portions of Kosovo, as well as the provincial capital Pristina. The UN says that more than 23,000 Serb civilians have left Kosovo since the start of the deployment of the NATO-led international protection force last Saturday

As Serbian military and civilians withdraw, hundreds of ethnic Albanians have started to cross into Kosovo from Macedonia and Albania, despite the dangers of landmines and warnings from the UN and NATO that the security situation in Kosovo is still volatile.

Overnight a rocket-propelled grenade was reportedly fired at Pristina airport and British troops arrested five ethnic Albanian separatists after a Serb man was shot in Serbia. Western news agencies report isolated incidents of violence throughout the province and tense atmospheres in Pristina and Prizen.

Meanwhile, the leader (Hajrush Kurtaj) of a group of the Kosovo Liberation Army in southern Kosovo vowed to keep his troops in the hills with their weapons and said they would only disarm upon orders from Kosovo's provisional government.

In Albania, Deputy Prime Minister Ilir Meta says he does not expect the presence of Russian troops to bring about a partition of Kosovo into Serbian and ethnic Albanian parts.

Meta said the seizure of Pristina airport last week ahead of NATO's entry into Kosovo shows that Russia has neither the responsibility nor the freedom from bias to serve in the KFOR peacekeeping force. But he said the presence of NATO troops in all parts of Kosovo ensures that any de facto partition is impossible.

Russia refuses to put its troops under NATO command and is demanding control in parts of northern Kosovo. The northern sector, which would be policed by French troops under the current KFOR plan, contains much of the province's industrial infrastructure and natural resources as well as the largest concentrations of Serbs. Northern Kosovo also is the last part of Kosovo where a withdrawal of Serbian forces under the NATO-Belgrade ceasefire agreement is due to be completed.

Senior Russian and U.S. officials are to meet in Helsinki tomorrow to discuss Russia's role in KFOR. British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook also has said Russia will not control a sector of the province, and that there will be no partition.
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